The Escape

Religion is a dangerous thing if you have ever been near the psych ward. I guess it’s not ok or sane to believe in something you can’t physically see or hear. If we can’t believe in things we can’t see, how are any of us supposed to believe in our futures? Or that we have one? How are we supposed to believe we can get well? Or survive the ordeals we suffer? If you take away faith, you take away hope.

I have been diagnosed as suffering from Complex PTSD and Bipolar 1- rapid cycling, so yes, I have problems regulating my emotions. The word moody does not begin to describe it. There is no regulation a lot of the time. Most of the time, I don’t think I need to control anything. If I feel it, the feeling must have some basis in fact, right? They tell me this is not always the case but that doesn’t change my reactions.

Speaking of religion is a dangerous thing, if you have ever been near a psych ward.

I have never felt the need to standardize my conduct to conform with society. In fact, my maternal grandfather very much encouraged me not to, ’If you have something to say, say it! Don’t hold back!’, he would tell me. I have always felt that I am who I am and the way I am because God made me this way and that he makes everyone their own way for a reason. I have always believed that everything that happens is for a reason. We just need to pay attention and be aware and the opportunities you need to succeed will be put in front of you. I am NOT saying that my eyes have always been open or that I have always listened to the quiet voice in my head telling me what path I should take. Many times, I could see no path or I just didn’t follow the breadcrumbs but I have always believed that everyone has this voice inside them.

I have great certainty that the only reason I survived the first 30 years of my life is because a strong moral code was instilled in me during my early childhood in which I knew I was loved by everybody around me. I knew Jesus loved me and he would keep me safe when my parents weren’t around. I knew the difference between right and wrong and could become indignant about unfairness. As I grew older, I could argue any side of a debate that was put into play. Every day I heard from my mom and dad how I could be anything I wanted to be and if at first I didn’t succeed to try, try again. I believed that angels watched over me every night. I was taught to share and share alike. I was taught to say my evening prayers and grace before meals. I was taught to treat others the way I wanted them to treat me and to never utter the word “hate”. I was taught to respect my elders and that there were very defined boundaries between what you could and could not say in public. I learned to be polite and to smile and nod at the correct times. I was told that God helps those who helps themselves. These lessons and many more stayed with me throughout my life and I am fortunate that I had this foundation beneath me before evil and sickness walked into my life, many are not so lucky.  I’m not sure that any foundation could have prepared me for what was to come but inside me was a superhuman strength I was unaware of.

I tend to be on top the world one second and the in the next unable to understand how everything could be so wrong. There are rarely muted colors in my emotions, I can go from raging red or playful, spunky neon pink, skip the blues and sink into that black pit of despondence then bounce back to gleeful green in a matter of hours or a couple days. The color wheel containing the full spectrum of my moods somehow spun off the gyroscope and lays smashed beyond repair. I am left, not trying to reassemble, but trying to create some order.

I can push things out of my mind until I have forgotten them and I can easily disassociate from this world while I am on the couch watching the news or a tv show that brings up a subject that is uncomfortable to me. I can close my mind instantly if you make me uncomfortable. This is a coping mechanism that is only helpful in the moment. Life goes on while you are trying to forget it and eventually the memories will catch up with you and must be dealt with in some manner. I have tried many times to remain present and in the moment but it often feels like an exercise in futility. It is too much second nature to me now. I have no control over my own mind. I have had more flashbacks than I can remember and once punched my husband because the face I saw coming in for a kiss suddenly wasn’t his. I have awakened my family in the night screaming to get out of the house, that the house was on fire. I once spent a midnight in the pouring rain trying to shovel up the grass on the front lawn so I could plant flowers. Many hours, ten feet from the side of the road, in the middle of the night, in a downpour. I never did plant the flowers. I wasn’t sleeping much around that time…

I have always had vivid recurrent nightmares. Dreams of falling; off a cliff, off a bridge, being driven off the bridge by those who were supposed to love me. Terrifying hours spent in sleep, searching for my missing family in wastelands and abandoned buildings.  People long dead coming to me in my sleep; urging me to join them. Shadow people silently standing guard beside the bed or in the doorway…Nights spent soaked in sweat in twisted sheets…

God didn’t save me from any of it…

God didn’t save me from any of it. I didn’t see any angels swooping into the room behind my stepfather to stop him from getting into bed with me. No trumpets blared to stop me from getting into a car with a rapist. The sea did not part to make a way for me to get away from my exes. (Well maybe the last time…) There have been many plagues. Nevertheless, I never doubted that he was there. Watching, checking in on me and always gently reminding me of his presence. I won’t lie, there have been times when I ignored every nudge he gave me. I ignored him even when he tripped me to keep me from going the wrong way and would get up, brush the dust off and continue the way I was going just because it was what I wanted at the moment or because the path was more clear or it was what I thought was right.  I spent years fighting what amounted to myself.

I spent my first 30 years victimized. Molested, sent away from home with a sock full of dimes for protection, raped, sold off to my 1st husband basically, escaping him for a drug dealer that had no qualms about beating the shit out of me, (I was raised that boys don’t hit girls, to speak my mind and that if someone hit me I was to hit them back, so I would, although it did not help my situation…) losing my kids, fighting for sobriety…I stopped thanking God that I was alive and for the little things that previously had reminded me he was there. My kids…butterflies, ladybugs, rainbows, the small kindnesses of strangers…I stopped seeing the world in color and was immersed in a world colored by different shades of blacks, whites and grays. I lost the goodness of the world. I lived in a scary place where everyone was out to get you and nobody was your friend. I couldn’t trust anyone to do what they said they would or to mean what they said. I was alone. Then one day that boyfriend punched me in the eye and I heard a loud, determined voice in my head, that sounded a lot like my own, saying, “That is the last time you will blacken my eye.” I don’t know where it came, didn’t know I was thinking anything about it, but I do know that it was a strong voice. That day I stopped using, both cocaine and crystal meth, all by myself, and I never went back. I never had another craving. It was about a year later that I told that same boyfriend that I was taking his car and going to see my kids in Alabama and I would be back in two weeks. I knew I was never coming back to him. I would sooner leave his car on the side of the road, if I must, burned to a crisp. I knew his pride wouldn’t let him come after me, that he would act like it was his idea for me to leave. I once gave him a black eye, during one of our many altercations and he told his friends and family some ‘black’ guy did it. I was so secretly proud of that black eye, smiling to myself every time I heard him give this explanation. Why it had to be a ‘black’ guy that did it, I don’t know…Some people knew the truth but it was still always a secret. He was cheating on me anyway. Loser. My plan was to go to Alabama, a place I considered the armpit of America, and find a job and a place to live and share my kids with their father and make the best of things. Be a mature, responsible adult. A contributing member of society.

Jesus asked,” Will you never believe in me unless you see miraculous signs and wonders?” John 4:48

At that time my ex and I were still legally married. We were not married in my mind. I had closed my mind and heart and soul to him a long time ago. I intended to get divorced as soon as possible and was sure he knew that. He did not. He thought we were going to be together. We were not. I told him my plan and he informed me that it would never happen. He was never going to let them stay with me anywhere or go anywhere with me. I started to think I needed to get out of there after he called my mom whining and crying that I was not there begging for forgiveness. She informed him I wasn’t there for him but for the kids, it was not a message he wanted to receive. Right around this time, I dropped the kids off at school one morning and went for a ride, looking for help wanted signs and apartments for rent. I went back and picked up the kids from school in the afternoon and went home to make supper. That evening I was asked what I was doing in Jasper that afternoon, a town about 30 miles from Adamsville. It was with a devastatingly sickening realization that nothing had changed in the preceding 3 years, and I knew, once again, I had to plan an escape. He was following me. Spying on me. Trying to control what I did, who I talked to and where I went. I couldn’t keep doing this. Later that night, he called the police and tried to have me removed his house. I stood in the doorway, watching the flashing lights in the driveway, looking over at my children- sitting on the sofa bed that they would later sleep together on, in that one bedroom shack in the backyard of some other family’s house and I knew I was taking them out of there and that this was not going to be their life. They deserved better. I deserved better.  I heard the police telling him he couldn’t keep me out if we were married just like he couldn’t stop me putting the kids in the car and leaving with them. We were married. Share and share alike.

I spent the next week secretly putting outfits in my trunk, one at a time. Mine and theirs. I put toys in my car that wouldn’t be noticed missing, pants and long sleeve shirts that no one was looking for in late August in Alabama. I waited for the moment he said he was leaving. For a moment that I believed he was really leaving. There was no way to be absolutely sure. I had, regrettably, been wrong before. It was on a Saturday. He said he was going to work. He hadn’t been in a week, that I could tell, but he was going to pick up a check so I believed him. I told him I was taking the kids swimming at Oak Mountain before they closed for the season. I put the kids in the car, went to a gas station, filled up and pulled over to the side. I put air in my leaky back driver side tire, got back in the car and turned to the kids,” I think we are going to go on a vacation instead of to Oak Mountain, what do you think?” Heartbroken, I reassured my oldest that his daddy wouldn’t be mad. I told them that we could go see Nanny or go to see their aunt, my sister, in Maine.  We sat at that gas station at that junction outside of Birmingham, and I pondered whether to take 20 and go through North Carolina to my mom or 65 north through Tennessee. I have always entered and returned to Alabama via Hwy 20.

I prayed. I prayed that we would be ok wherever we ended up. I told God that I needed him and I begged for him to be with us. I told him I knew there was no way I could do this without him. I was terrified. I couldn’t do this anymore. I knew there was something better out there for us. A better life for us and please could he help us find it. I told him I needed help, that I didn’t know what to do.

That day I decided to take the scenic route via 65. I had never come north that way and I wouldn’t recognize anything or anyone along the way. A few weeks later, when my ex called me at the women’s shelter where we were hiding, he told me he was sitting on the side of Highway 20 that day, waiting for me, that he knew I was ‘up to something’. In that way, the sea parted for me.

Somewhere on the highway in Tennessee we lost that left rear tire and I put on the donut. The 50-mile limit, plastic tire auto manufacturers used to give you as a spare… We made it to near Bristol, Tennessee that first day. I wanted to keep driving but I couldn’t and I needed a tire. I knew he would think I was heading to my mother’s house in North Carolina for about a minute. Until he got there, anyway. I got the kids some fast food and a hotel room and set them free to jump on the beds and watch cartoons. I asked the desk guy where a Western Union was and called my mom to ask for money. Sundays in the south, in the 90’s, stores were not open. It was a day of rest…I got no tire the next morning but we headed out just the same. Praying mile by mile, repeating a mantra silently, “Please God, take me home, please take care of us…” Mile after long mile…We got here on that donut tire- 1000 miles…I call that a miracle…Funny thing is, that car gave me no problems all the way here but started acting up shortly after we got here, as if its purpose was fulfilled. I abandoned it when I found out he was in Maine, now following me around in a borrowed car, so we wouldn’t recognize him. We were here and, as far as I was concerned, an ocean had parted and made way for us. We got here and then I fell apart in a different way…

I don’t believe I would have made it here alone. I know I wouldn’t have. I had very little faith in my own ability to make it happen. I spent weeks before we left and years after we arrived, on edge. I spiraled slowly down and down, into the dregs of my mind. Old familiar places pounding me with memory after memory, reminding me daily about why I left here. I am not going to lie and say I have never had any religious delusions. I am not going to lie and say that I have never felt deserted by God. I am not going to say that I have gotten everything I have ever wanted. I am going to say that God put me on the right road, literally. I am going to say that if you are ready, if you are open, if you ask and are prepared for the answer to come in any form, that He will be there. I am confident of this and I am grateful every day that I wake up. No matter what mood I am in…

‘I wish I was in the hospital…’

It always surprises me when I have this thought. It has happened more than once over the last 13 years. It didn’t happen once after my first hospitalization but it has flitted through my mind on more than one occasion since my second admission. It happens when there is too much noise in my head. I’m not sure how to describe the sound. It’s a buzzing, a white sound. It is the roar of a Nor’Easter in January with 50 mph winds. The rumble of the freight train used to describe an impending tornado. The babble of a thousand voices running together, not one loud enough to discern the words. The noise makes it impossible for me to have a complete thought, if I can think at all. It is the only thing I hear. A Roaring inside my head. My cognizance will soon be gone. I don’t think about how to get out of bed or appointments I will miss. Calls and e-mails go unreturned. All my contacts are ghosted. Mail will start piling up and eventually I will put it somewhere out of sight, until it is completely forgotten about. I can’t remember to comb my hair, never mind pay the power bill. I begin to feel overwhelmed and inadequate. I begin to feel that I am letting my loved ones down. Eventually, my perception and intuition will fail me and I will be defenseless. I am easily offended. For now, I will question the motives of EVERYONE I speak to and some that I don’t. I will look for deception in every word and nuance. I will keep my eyes open for any weapon you may use against me, I am vulnerable and that makes me paranoid. I am constantly scanning my surroundings for the exits. I will ruminate possible scenarios and outcomes of situations for hours. There is danger everywhere. I remain constantly aware. It’s exhausting.

Many times, it accompanies a tingling in my body that resembles the feeling of too much caffeine or not enough sleep. Maybe it’s both… I get itches that I can’t scratch. It seems they are under the skin. I have scratched myself until I bled on more than one occasion, sometimes in my sleep. All this comes with a tiredness of mind that no sleep can refresh. It brings irritability and a lack of patience. I feel compelled to move. I will pace and, alternately, sit on the couch and rocking forward and back, before getting up to do some chore. I begin to feel unconnected to my husband and in my other relationships. I begin to have nightmares; some I will remember and many I will not. I will wake knowing that something is bad somewhere. Something is not okay. Maybe I’ve done something, maybe somebody has done something to me that I don’t know about yet. I will lash out and can become combative if others get too close physically or attempt to suggest I do something that will “make me feel better”. Those suggestions run the gamut from calling the doctor to taking a nap to taking a bath. I never find them helpful and they always make me angry. I will snap, “I’m fine, why do you always treat me like a crazy person? Why don’t YOU go take YOUR meds!! I’m not a child!” I become aggressive and will snap at anyone, anywhere for any slight. Real or imagined. I’m not sure how I still show my face in this county, I am ashamed of my behavior but must go on so I hold my head high, looking over others, the same way I always have. I will smile as I pass you in the aisle at the grocery store even though I know you saw me raging so bad I was spitting last week at the drug store.

It takes a special kind of strength to be mentally ill and survive. It takes a special kind of strength to survive abuse, whether inflicted on you by strangers or by those who claim to love you. Whether it happens in the dark of night or the light of day, at home behind closed doors or in a public place. Whether it is a well-hidden secret or one everyone knows about but refuses to notice. Maybe it is public knowledge and strangers feel they can bring it up whenever they want because somehow, they feel they know you, through the news or social media. To know you have acted in ways that are shameful to you is only a problem when you are well, otherwise you were in the right and it doesn’t seem to matter. You are indignant if anyone claims you are in the wrong. It is when you are well that you must be your strongest. To apologize and try to explain. You can try to explain what you have gone through. but there are no words. How do you explain that there was nothing? Just nothing..in you. I’m sorry now…I didn’t know what I was doing…I don’t describe myself as sick- I am not sick. Like, what? What kind of sick? Like cancer? Heart-disease? If I eat right, I’ll be okay?My mind won’t betray me? My body? The flu? It is very disconcerting for your mind to turn on you. It felt that the WORLD fell on me. I broke. I got shattered. Turned to dust. I will be well and learn to balance myself. To watch for the signs. I will get up. Bi- Polar will not be a terminal illness for me. We WILL co-exist, if not in perfect harmony, then with an uneasy partnership.

I know what it means when I start thinking I should go to the hospital. It means I need to rest and by rest, I mean be alone. The appeal of the hospital to me is NOT the massive doses of anti-psychotics they will numb me with or the puzzles with missing pieces in the rec room. It is the lack of responsibility. It is that I won’t have to talk about anything that matters and that the most I may have to focus on is a coloring page. I crave the order and the quiet. No one makes me eat when I am not hungry or wash my hair when I don’t care. Who wants to take a shower with someone watching to make sure you don’t eat the damn soap? That’s desperation, suicide by .75oz. shampoo….From a hospital bed, I can’t see the pile of dishes in the sink and the dog is not whining to go out. It is a letting go, a giving in. It is no judgement and no sideways looks. I would much rather say, “Hey honey- I need some quiet time so I’m going for a drive, I’ll be back in a week…Love you…” That would sound too much like a vacation and then others would want to ride along, which would defeat the purpose. So instead I will stock the freezer with frozen foods and the refrigerator with sandwich meat and milk. I will stock the cabinets with mac and cheese and rice mixes. I will buy plenty of spaghetti and canned sauce and put the least amount of effort in cooking while I put music on my earbuds or stream the same reruns I always do, finding their repetitive drones comforting. I will lay on the couch for 3 days, with my husband right beside me. I’m going to tell my granddaughter she can’t come over for a bit and apologize to my son about the short notice. I will take the increased doses of anti-psychotics and benzodiazepines my Psychiatric NP. lovingly prescribes me, for the time required for me to “level” out. When I feel better, when I begin to think again, I will slowly cut back on my doses until I am, once again, “stable”. But for now, I’m going to wear my pajamas and sleep whenever I want, IF I want. I’m going to hope it is warm enough to go outside, even if just to sit on the step. I am going to tell everyone around me to figure it out themselves and if I say it loud enough, they will. They are getting used to this by now. I’m sorry they have to, but it is the way it is. Everybody makes concessions to the Bi-Polar- and I share my strength back with them when I am well and they need to take a rest.

Each time he said, “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.” So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me.
2 Corinthians 12:9

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Boxes

Bi-Polar Disorder was never a diagnosis that I fully accepted. I am not going to try and deny that I can check off every box on the diagnosis checklist. I can. No doubt. The PTSD one too. That is true. I like to think that the fact that I see the world a bit differently than the average Joe is a good thing. My experiences are different. I bring each one of them with me. I have always considered myself moody. Why wouldn’t I be? I had plenty to be moody about. I have always had a mind prone to daydreams and fantasies. Doesn’t every little girl? A dear departed friend from high school who lovingly referred to me as “Wacky Jackie.” I loved it, I felt it set me apart from everyone, where I should be… Set off to the side like a broken chair. I already felt like I was apart from most of my peers- how many of them were hiding the secrets I held within me? I loved school really, I felt safe there. I could bury myself in homework and forget the turmoil inside. I could focus on what was within that building and forget about everything else. I heard it whispered many times that I was “stuck up”, sometimes even “snobby”. Nothing could have been farther from the truth. My aloof manner stemmed from trying to protect myself. If I placed myself on a higher field I could see and hear everything going on around me and no one attacks from below.

Even then I knew not to get too close to people. I had a few very good friends and that was all I ever needed. No one ever got to know everything. I kept myself at a distance knowing somehow instinctually that were I ever to utter a word or a blip or a wrong cross glance bad things would happen. My child’s mind did not know what exactly would transpire, just that everyone would be mad at me. What child wants that?

Once when I was around 13 or 14, a woman from church asked me to babysit for the evening. She picked me up and drove me to her house. Before she left to go out for the evening she pulled me to the side and came right out and asked,” How long has “HE” (referring to a family member) been touching you?” I was shocked and speechless and horrified. I never said a word to anyone. EVER. How does she know? Tears instantly welled up in my eyes. There were no words. I said indignantly, “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” and pulled away. She reached out and turned my face towards hers and said, “It happened to me, I can see it. You don’t have to talk to me or tell me anything right now, but I want you to know that you can.”

Those words should have comforted me. I was NOT ALONE! I believe that is the way she meant them. They did not comfort me in any way. Instead, they had the effect of magnifying what I already believed. That I was broken and my worst fear had come true. EVERYONE KNEW. EVERYONE COULD SEE IT! The shame I felt always, I wrapped around me like a cloak. I could hide under it. I learned how to look over and through everybody. Looking for signs they could tell or see… I learned how to smile and laugh on the outside without letting it touch me on the inside. I learned to watch every move and all the angles. I learned to put up walls. Walls between me and people, walls between the outer me and the inner. I had cities of walls around me and boxes and boxes in my mind. Boxes filled with one horror or another. Mental boxes, firmly latched. Everything in its place, always. I learned early and well how to watch out for danger. I slept lightly and covered with as many blankets as I thought it would take to keep the monsters out, everything tucked in around me.

This is around the time that I began to create angels and protectors. I began to believe that no matter what happened to me, I would be ok. I could go to anyplace in my mind whenever needed now. I didn’t know the term or what it meant, but disassociation was my best friend. I could leave at any time, go anywhere in my mind, if I felt the least bit uncomfortable. It was easy. It is still way too easy. Unfortunately, it wasn’t enough. I began to imagine that there were people outside, maybe living people, maybe not. Out my window at the tree line. Just in the shadows. Sometimes I had a feeling who they were, other times not so much. God was watching me, I knew, but he can’t be EVERYWHERE, ALL the time, so he sent others. This is what I knew. They would keep me from going too far away…Make sure I would get back from wherever I had to go…. I knew these things as real, the way I survived-not as hallucinations of a psychotic mind… I still see them as real. Real protectors sent from God. Who went away when I didn’t need them anymore. That to me is not crazy. It sounds perfectly sane to me. What else would prepubescent girl think?

I’ve spent a good deal of my life fighting. Fighting to be free. In my mind. Fighting for myself, for my kids, against husbands and boyfriends. Fighting the police on occasion. Fighting anyone who thought they knew what was “best” for me. Fighting myself. Fighting for my right to be free to express myself, whether seen as appropriate or not. Fighting to be free of what “the establishment” thinks is right for my mind, what meds I will and will not take and once you get a diagnosis of ANY kind, mental or physical, it begins to define you. It defines how others see you and it can define how you see yourself, if you let it. I feel that diagnosis box around me. I feel the limits it sets on me, even if only in my own mind. Well, not JUST in MY mind, I can see it in the faces of others I interact with, if they know. Today I am taking that box off. I’m going to pick it up off my shoulders and I am going to gently set it on the floor beside me. I am cautiously exploring a newfound peace. In the future I will take the advice of those who love and care for me and ponder it before I make a decision but the decision will be mine. I will care what they think and accept their reasoning. Then I will make the best decision for me.

I heard that God gave us two ears and one mouth for a reason. I’ve been listening a long time. Today I have something to say….